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Adventures in Science: How to Use a Multimeter

Just getting into electronics or want a refresher on digital multimeter basics? We've got you covered.

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My New Years resolution was to make more videos. A lot more videos.

OK, it really had nothing to do with the new year, but it sounded good in my head.

Based on the feedback I received for my concept series last year, I've decided to spend some time on a more basic concept and tutorial video series (and implement many of the suggestions you all gave). I want to leave the more advanced electrical design concepts for According to Pete, so I plan to focus on the basics: how to use tools, broad concepts, and maybe some programming.

First up: How to Use a Multimeter. This incredibly useful tool should be one of the first devices you pick up if you're getting started in electronics. Basic models are capable of measuring AC and DC voltages, current and resistance. You'll also find yourself using it quite often to detect unwanted shorts and opens in your circuits.

SparkFun sells a few different multimeters to get you started. If you want the absolute best, be prepared to spend some money, and you can't really do much better than a Fluke. I use a Fluke 87V as my personal meter at home, but I had to scour eBay deals to wait for one to show up used at a reasonable price.

If the written word is your preferred method of digesting information, Nate has a great tutorial on using multimeters:

How to Use a Multimeter

January 9, 2015

Learn the basics of using a multimeter to measure continuity, voltage, resistance and current.

I'm hoping to continue these tutorial and concept videos (almost) every week. What things would you like to see? What are some concepts that you consider to be essential in starting with electronics, programming, crafting, etc. that aren't covered elsewhere?

Interested in learning more foundational topics?

See our Engineering Essentials page for a full list of cornerstone topics surrounding electrical engineering.

Take me there!


Comments 13 comments

  • I was taught that when measuring resistance you should not be on parallel with the device. This because the human body has its own resistance and it will get into the measure.

    • Correct, you really shouldn't be touching the metal parts of the probes if you don't want to introduce your body's resistance, unlike what I did in the video :) However, because your body's resistance is so high, it has a negligible effect on measuring smaller resistances (e.g. 2.2kΩ).

  • It looks like there's a written tutorial for soldering, but a short video might be nice. It's always good to see the right way to use tools beyond just some text.

    Attaching wire ends (barrel jacks, PWM, quick-release ends) would be interesting, but it's probably not something that most people would use on a regular basis.

    • Thanks for the suggestions! We've got a good number of soldering videos, but if there's a specific technique (or one you want to see re-done), I can definitely add it to the list. Dealing with wires would be good, especially things like how to properly crimp (I still have trouble with that sometimes).

  • I would have been thrilled by "How NOT to use a multimeter".

  • I have an idea for a future episode. It isn't electronics, but it is a tool that is commonly used by makers:

    Calipers

    Start with a quick introduction to the types (vernier, dial, digital) and if there is time a quick primer in reading a vernier scale. Then go through the different ways (don't just describe, but demonstrate) to use it, especially touching on some of the more advanced techniques.

    • That's a good one--I'll add it to the list! Even for electronics, I use mine all the time, especially on SMD parts that don't have good documentation on the footprint.

  • I would like to see a video on the basics of open source. I have been in circles when the question has come up and it would be nice to have a link to forward sometimes. Also, EMI, PIDs, and maybe some "historic reasoning" would be nice.

    • This is a great idea. We talk about open source a lot, but nailing down exactly what it means can get a little muddled. Shawn and I will add it to the queue!

  • Include options for measure methods. Example Amps: clsmp meters (AC & DC) and in series. Additional series methods would be series internal / external (for large currents) to the meter. Also electronic modules that do amplification or conversion to digital data via SPI, I2C and magic smoke communication protocols.

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